Public forest to stretch nearly 8 miles in Wabasha County
By John Weiss
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
WABASHA — The purchase of about 260 of forest and bottomland along the Zumbro River has connected two larger blocks of state forest near Wabasha to form the biggest contiguous section of public forest in southeast Minnesota.
The result is about 4,460 acres of contiguous forest in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest that has about 45,000 acres spread out over several counties in this region.
The 260 acres join the 3,000-acre Zumbro Bottoms area between Dumfries and Theilman and the 1,200-acre Kruger area southwest of Wabasha. The biggest piece of state land is the 28,000-acre Whitewater Wildlife Management Area about 10 miles to the south. In between them is the 2,600-acre acres Snake Creek parcel of forestland.
With the 260 acres that were bought last spring, state land along the Zumbro now stretches nearly eight miles, said Terry Helbig, area Department of Natural Resources forestry supervisor in Lake City.
Another connection is a new bridge that is being built now to replace the old Funk Ford Bridge that connects the two sides of Zumbro Bottoms. The old bridge was damaged in a flood and has been removed. The new one is expected to be done by the end of the year.
Easier to manage
Having long stretches of land makes it easier for the DNR to manage and for some birds to nest, he said.
The DNR has to put signs around its land and smaller blocks take many more signs per acre than such large tracts, he said. Also, there are fewer chances for trespass onto private land because there is so much public land, he said.
Some birds, such as cerulean warblers and red-shouldered hawks, only nest in large blocks of forestland. "It creates magnificent habitat opportunities," he said.
Forest growth has slowed
The Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest began in 1961 in this region with a name but no trees and grew fast with tax-forfeited or cheap woodlands.
Since then, woodlands, once considered wastelands, have seen prices shoot from about $5 an acre in 1961 to $3,000 or more now, said Terry Helbig, area Department of Natural Resources forestry supervisor in Lake City. That has slowed land purchases.
In its first 25 years, Dorer got about 42,000 acres in several bluffland counties of this region. Since then, it has added only about 3,000 acres. There have been willing sellers of several thousand more acres but the state hasn’t had the money or moved too slowly.
The DNR tries to buy land next to existing land for ease of management. It has also traded some isolated parcels for those next to bigger public tracts, Helbig said.
Besides offering the public land for camping, horseback riding, hiking and hunting, the forest provides trees for logging, he said. The 17,000 acres in the Lake City area generated about $250,000 in revenue last year, he said.
DNR foresters work with about 80,000 acres of state forest and wildlife management land in the region and try to cut about 1,000 acres a year, Helbig said. They try to encourage walnut and oak because those trees are in greater demand, he said. That often means clearcutting land because it’s the best way to get oaks, which need a lot of sunlight.
John Weiss covers news in Winona, Wabasha and Goodhue counties. If you have a story idea or tip for him, call him at (507) 285-7749.